Honor Godly Marriage!
JEHOVAH’S view of human marriage is clearly stated in a number of scriptures, such as, “What God yoked together let no man put apart,” and, “He [Jehovah] has hated a divorcing.” (Mark 10:9; Malachi 2:16) On the other hand, the great adversary, Satan the Devil, opposes everything that is clean and righteous. In these “last days,” when “wicked men . . . advance from bad to worse,” Satan is trying to cast reproach on all of Jehovah’s loving arrangements, including the institution of marriage. (2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13; Revelation 12:9, 12) In view of the times, Jehovah’s Witnesses should be ever more determined loyally to uphold and keep pure God’s marriage arrangement.—Genesis 2:24; Proverbs 27:11; Hebrews 13:4.
Problems in Marriage
To be sure, as long as humans are imperfect, problems will arise in marriage. (1 Corinthians 7:28-34) However, where both mates are believers, there is a fine basis for the marriage bond to be strong because Jehovah is taken into account. A Christian marriage becomes like “a threefold cord [that] cannot quickly be torn in two.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12) If there is some incompatibility, or any other problem, the Christian mates may take it in prayer to Jehovah, confident of his help. Often, a solution may be found by calmly talking matters over in the light of such scriptures as 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Ephesians 5:21-33 and Colossians 3:12-14, 18, 19. Thus, when the Bible’s counsel to ‘marry in the Lord’ has been followed, there is a fine basis for solving problems in the light of the Scriptures.—1 Corinthians 7:39.
If the matter is not satisfactorily resolved privately, the couple may wish to seek the advice of some elder in the Christian congregation. Having Jehovah’s viewpoint, they should be able to keep the marriage intact and cultivate also the oneness and love that God originally purposed for marriage partners.—Genesis 2:24; Proverbs 31:10-12, 28, 30; Matthew 19:4-6.
With an Unbelieving Mate
The situation may be different when a person becomes a believer and the mate fails to respond to the Kingdom message. Even so, there can be a very fine marriage, with husband and wife showing love for each other. And, as the apostle Peter said, the Christian wife’s “chaste conduct together with deep respect” may in time win over an unbelieving husband. Likewise, a newly converted husband may in time win over his wife. (1 Peter 3:1-7) Where there are deeper problems, the believer may need to handle these tactfully and with patient endurance, displaying always “the fruitage of the spirit.”—Galatians 5:22, 23.
In some cases there may be verbal and physical abuse, threats and beatings. But does this mean that the Christian marriage mate should leave the unbeliever? The apostle Paul counsels: “A wife should not depart from her husband; but if she should actually depart, let her remain unmarried or else make up again with her husband; and a husband should not leave his wife.” As Paul points out, preserving the marriage will be to the spiritual benefit of any children. In a practical way, also, it may be to the material benefit of the believing parent and children. Still, in the event that abuse becomes unbearable, or life itself is endangered, the believing mate may choose to “depart.” But the endeavor should be to “make up again” in due course. (1 Corinthians 7:10-16) However, ‘departing’ does not of itself provide Scriptural grounds for divorce and remarriage; still, a legal divorce or a legal separation may provide a measure of protection from further abuse.
Are there any circumstances under which a Christian may go further and obtain a divorce with freedom to remarry? Remember, Jesus counseled, “What God has yoked together let no man put apart.” But he went on to indicate that there could be a proper ground for divorce, for he said: “Whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, and marries another commits adultery.”—Matthew 19:6, 9; see also 5:32.
Does this mean that if a Christian tires of a marriage mate or ‘falls in love’ with another person, he can freely use some situation involving fornication to change partners? Sad to say, in some cases where both partners claim to be believers, the device of committing fornication (usually adultery) has been used in a scheming and willful way to break Scriptural marriage ties. Can such ones be so foolish as to think that Jehovah does not know the “thoughts and intentions of the heart”? (Hebrews 4:12, 13) Such seem to have taken the viewpoint that they can commit immorality deliberately, be disfellowshipped for a year or so, and then with a new marriage mate “repent” and be reinstated in the congregation.
In such a case, however, considerable time should elapse before elders could even entertain any request for reinstatement. Conscientious elders would not be hasty. They need to see very clear evidence of fruits befitting repentance. Even if such a sinner were in due course reinstated, it would be many years, if ever, before the elders could recommend him for special privileges in the congregation, and in any event not before the remarriage or death of the innocent mate. (1 Timothy 3:2, 12) We can appreciate the seriousness of this sort of planned adultery before Jehovah God by recalling that under his righteous Law in ancient Israel adulterers would have been stoned to death. (Deuteronomy 22:22) And today, whatever congregations may decide, Jehovah is the ultimate Judge. “God will judge fornicators and adulterers.”—Hebrews 13:4.*
Preserving the Marriage
For the protection of God’s people, and in the hope that any who have moral problems will look to the Christian congregation for guidance in honoring Jehovah’s institution of marriage, certain aspects of the matter of fornication will here be discussed explicitly. This is done in harmony with the Scriptures, which are frank and outspoken even when discussing such delicate and intimate matters.—Compare Leviticus 20:10-23; Deuteronomy 31:12; Matthew 5:27, 28; Romans 1:26, 27; Jude 7.
Rather than seek an excuse for divorce, married persons should be seeking ways of holding a marriage together. If a mate commits immorality and is repentant, the innocent mate may choose to forgive, with a view to maintaining the God-given marriage arrangement. Mercy may thus be shown, in imitation of another of Jehovah’s excelling qualities.—Exodus 34:6; compare Nehemiah 9:17.
However, what if the mate is unrepentant, is disfellowshipped and even continues in a proved course of gross immorality? Or what if the personal health and spirituality of the innocent mate are endangered? While not ignoring the Scriptural admonition to preserve the marriage if at all possible, Jesus’ words quoted above from Matthew 19:9 indicate that there is a ground for divorce—the only Scriptural ground for a divorce—fornication.
What do we understand here by “fornication”? The Greek word in this text is porneia. In discussing the matter, The Watchtower of December 15, 1972, pages 766-768, showed that porneia “comes from a root word meaning ‘to sell.’” Thus it is tied in with prostitution, such as that practiced in many pagan temples in the first century and in ‘houses of ill fame’ today.
True, porneia is sometimes used in a limited sense, as applying to sex relations between unmarried (single) persons. An instance of such a limited usage is 1 Corinthians 6:9, where “fornicators” are mentioned separately and in addition to those who engage in such other sexual vices as adultery and homosexuality. But just before this, at 1 Corinthians 5:9-11, Paul used the same word when counseling Christians not to mix with “fornicators.” Is it reasonable to think that here he referred only to immoral unmarried persons? That could not be so, for chapter 6 sets out a broad range of illicit sexual practices that must be shunned, including adultery and homosexuality. Likewise, Jude 7 and Revelation 21:8, which show that God judges unrepentant “fornicators” as worthy of eternal destruction, could hardly be limited only to unmarried persons that have sex relations. And the Jerusalem governing body’s edict at Acts 15:29, “to keep abstaining . . . from fornication,” must be understood to have the wide field of application.*
So, then, “fornication” in the broad sense, and as used at Matthew 5:32 and Mt 19:9, evidently refers to a broad range of unlawful or illicit sex relations outside marriage. Porneia involves the grossly immoral use of the genital organ(s) of at least one human (whether in a natural or a perverted way); also, there must have been another party to the immorality—a human of either sex, or a beast.* Thus, self-abuse (unwise and spiritually dangerous as this may be) is not porneia. But to this day, the term porneia embraces the various kinds of sexual activity that might take place in a house of prostitution, where sexual favors are bought and sold. A person who goes to a male or a female prostitute to buy any kind of sexual favors would be guilty of porneia.—Compare 1 Corinthians 6:18.
How about sexual activity between married couples within the marriage bond? It is not for the elders to pry into the intimate lives of married Christians. However, the Bible certainly enters into their lives. Those who would “keep walking by spirit” should not ignore the Scriptural indications of God’s thinking. And they will do well to cultivate a hatred for everything that is unclean before Jehovah, including what are clearly perverted sexual practices. Married couples should act in a way that will leave them with a clean conscience, as they give unimpeded attention to developing “the fruitage of the spirit.”—Galatians 5:16, 22, 23; Ephesians 5:3-5.
What, though, if one mate wants or even demands to share with his or her partner in what is clearly a perverted sex practice? The above-presented facts show that porneia involves unlawful sexual conduct outside the marital arrangement. Thus, a mate’s enforcing perverted acts, such as oral or anal sex, within the marriage would not constitute a Scriptural basis for a divorce that would free either for remarriage.* Even though a believing mate is distressed by the situation, yet that one’s endeavor to hold to Scriptural principles will result in a blessing from Jehovah. In such cases it may be helpful for the couple to discuss the problem frankly, bearing in mind especially that sexual relations should be honorable, wholesome, an expression of tender love. This certainly should exclude anything that might distress or harm one’s mate.—Ephesians 5:28-30; 1 Peter 3:1, 7.
As already stated, it is not for elders to “police” the private marital matters of couples in the congregation. However, if it becomes known that a member of the congregation is practicing or openly advocating perverted sex relations within the marriage bond, that one certainly would not be irreprehensible, and so would not be acceptable for special privileges, such as serving as an elder, a ministerial servant or a pioneer. Such practice and advocacy could even lead to expulsion from the congregation. Why?
Galatians 5:19-21 lists many vices that are not classed as porneia, and which could lead to one’s being disqualified from God’s Kingdom. Among them are “uncleanness” (Greek, akatharsia, signifying filthiness, depravity, lewdness) and “loose conduct” (Greek, aselgeia, signifying licentiousness, wantonness, shameless conduct). Like porneia, these vices, when they become gross, can be grounds for disfellowshipping from the Christian congregation, but not for obtaining a Scriptural divorce. A person who brazenly advocates shocking and repulsive sexual activities would be guilty of loose conduct. Of course, a person with that attitude might even sink to committing porneia; then there would be a basis for a Scriptural divorce.* How concerned all devoted Christians should be to avoid and war against all such “works of the flesh”!—Galatians 5:24, 25.
All of Jehovah’s people, whether married or single, should shun every kind of immorality. They should give loyal support to all of Jehovah’s arrangements, including the institution of marriage. (Psalm 18:21-25) Those who are married should, as “one flesh,” endeavor to honor Jehovah, cultivating true love and respect in their marriage. (Genesis 2:23, 24; Ephesians 5:33; Colossians 3:18, 19) In this way, as in other ways, they can show that they are “no part of the world”—a world that Satan has dragged into a mire of immorality and corruption and that is about to ‘pass away with its desire.’ Remembering that “he that does the will of God remains forever,” all should strive to do God’s “will” in relation to His precious arrangement of marriage.—John 17:16; 1 John 2:17.
It is noteworthy that Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary gives as its first definition of “fornication”: “Human sexual intercourse other than between a man and his wife.” And in defining “intercourse” (heterosexual, anal, oral) it states that this would involve “the genitalia of at least one person.” So the English word “fornication” is an appropriate translation for the Greek word porneia.
A male or a female who is forcibly raped would not be guilty of porneia.
The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology states, for example, that porneia means “unchastity, harlotry, prostitution, fornication.” It also says: “The word-group [involving porneia] can describe various extra-marital sexual modes of behaviour insofar as they deviate from accepted social and religious norms (e.g. homosexuality, promiscuity, paedophilia [sexual abuse of children], and especially prostitution).” Thus, porneia would include adultery (Greek, moikheia), and can cover a broader range of other immoral practices outside marriage, such as oral or anal sex and bestiality.
The 1979 edition of the highly regarded Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (by Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich) defines porneia as “prostitution, unchastity, fornication, of every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse.”
This is an amplification and adjustment in understanding of what appears in The Watchtower of November 15, 1974, pages 703-704, and of February 15, 1978, pages 30-32. Those who acted on the basis of the knowledge they had at the time are not to be criticized. Nor would this affect the standing of a person who in the past believed that a mate’s perverted sexual conduct within marriage amounted to porneia and, hence, obtained a divorce and is now remarried.
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Marriage must be kept honorable and separate from worldly immorality